ANTHONY ALBANESE – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC RADIO NSW STATEWIDE DRIVE – FRIDAY, 9 OCTOBER 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
ABC RADIO NSW STATEWIDE DRIVE
FRIDAY, 9 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Budget reply; Labor’s Working Family Child Care Boost; childcare; women; manufacturing; economic reforms; energy prices; Labor’s plan to Rewire the Nation; regional Australia; Federal election; JobSeeker; bushfire recovery.
ANNA MOULDER, HOST: Last night, Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, announced his official reply to this year’s Federal Budget. The Government is prioritising jobs and spending stimulus with income tax cuts and wage and investment subsidies for businesses making up some of the key cornerstones of the plan, all in a bid to help Australia recover from the economic effects of the pandemic. But the Opposition has taken a clear run at winning over some of the people the Budget was criticised for leaving out. Women. The Opposition announced a $6 billion plan to increase the childcare subsidy and remove the cap on the subsidy so that families and women in particular won’t have their efforts to return to work limited by increased childcare costs. Our guest this afternoon on Statewide Drive is Anthony Albanese. Good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Anna.
MOULDER: We’ll get to some of the issues in just a moment. But today, you’ve obviously been sharing your message from last night’s reply. And you do get to choose who you speak to. And you’ve chosen to speak to us. Why is that? Why is that regional New South Wales vote an important place to share your message this afternoon?
ALBANESE: I think the people of regional New South Wales, they’re important. So much of our economy relies upon the activity of farmers, of miners, of people who work in the regions and produce outcomes that benefit those of us who live in the cities, and I live in Sydney, but throughout the entire state. And it’s a great opportunity to talk with people in the region, who, of course, have suffered not just from the pandemic, but before then, of course, the bushfires and before that the drought. So, people in the regions have had a triple hit. So, I am very conscious about reaching out and engaging with people in regional Australia.
MOULDER: Let’s look to the issue of childcare because that is one that is close to many people’s hearts, especially in regional New South Wales. Yours is a plan that I understand will hold the most benefit to middle- and high-income families. And you have criticised the Government for giving too much of a helping hand to high-income earners in the past. What do you say to that?
ALBANESE: Well, overwhelming majority of the benefit actually goes to low-income earners. But we make no apologies for the fact that this is an economic reform. It’s what we’re about. It is lifting the cap on the subsidy, then lifting it to 90 per cent. It will taper off down to $530,000. And that’s about encouraging workforce participation. If we’re going to grow the economy, there are three things you can do. You can have population growth. You can have productivity improvements. Or you can have participation in the workforce. Now, the population is, of course, decreasing, in terms of there’s more people leaving the country than there are coming to Australia for the first time in my lifetime. But then, of course, if you look at participation, this is the most effective way you can increase workforce participation. It’s just not right that a woman who wants to work full-time, after they get through three days a week, so many people are in circumstances where for the fourth day or the fifth day, essentially 80-90, sometimes literally 100 per cent of their income will be spent on childcare costs. So, there is actually a disincentive on them working. That’s bad for the individual and bad for families. But it’s also bad for our economy. And increasing that workforce participation will make a considerable difference and provide that real boost to productivity.
MOULDER: Mr Albanese, your plan aims to make it easier for families to afford to put their children into care, presumably that will also increase demand if you’re hoping to increase the workforce. And the childcare system is already stretched, particularly here in regional areas. How do you plan to cater to the childcare needs growing in regional New South Wales?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve put forward this plan well in advance of when we would want it to commence on the First of July 2022. And then to have a Productivity Commission review of how it’s operating in practice in that first term. But we think that doing this, providing this signal, one of the things that it would do, of course, yes there is a need for childcare services in many parts of Australia, but particularly in the in the region, and this would, of course, provide, potentially, as well, a boost, and goes hand in hand with the proposals that we have for the creation of Jobs and Skills Australia to make sure that we improve on our training and production, if you like, of the workers that we need for future jobs. We need to train Australians for it. We need to make sure that we value our early childhood educators who such an important job. One of the things about this is an economic measure, but it’s also about our future economy by giving kids the best start in life. 90 per cent of brain development happens in the first five years of a kid’s life. It’s quite remarkable that figure, I think. And that’s why we need to make sure that quality childcare is seen as an essential service, seen as something that is valued as a contribution, not just to individuals, but for our entire economy and society.
MOULDER: So, with that in mind, are you committing to new childcare centres for these kids to go to? Are you committing to higher wages, I guess, for those key early childhood people providing that education?
ALBANESE: Look, we’ll have further announcements on those areas of policy. What we did last night was outline essentially where we think this needs to go. And in terms of an economic productivity measure, it just seemed to me when I sat and listened to the Government’s Budget on Tuesday night, they have already doubled the debt that we owe last year. They’re producing a trillion dollars of debt, and nothing to show for it. No economic reform. No legacy. And we need to do better than that. I think we need to not just talk about how we return to the way that things were, but how we improve things, how we strengthen our economy, how we create more jobs, how we improve living standards. And I’m concerned that the Government doesn’t really have a plan for economic recovery, which will make us stronger as a nation, and also fairer.
MOULDER: Our guest this afternoon on Statewide Drive, Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, of course, after he announced his official reply to the Federal Budget last night. If we move to welfare, and you’ve said this is economic reform, not welfare. But let’s look at welfare for a second. Labor has been encouraging the Government to keep the JobSeeker allowance at a higher level going forward. But Labor never lifted the welfare payment for unemployed Australians by such a significant amount when it was in power. So long-term, realistically, if you are returned to Government at the next election, how will you approach helping people who are unemployed and looking for work?
ALBANESE: Well, what we’re saying is that $40 a day is simply not good enough in 2020. And that was acknowledged by the Government when it introduced the supplement that effectively doubled the unemployment benefits.
MOULDER: How much per day is fair, do you think?
ALBANESE: Well, what we’re saying is we’ve tried to give the Government, frankly, the space to move. And then we, of course, would assess that and make our own decisions. But we are very concerned that in the Budget on Tuesday night, people will drop back to $40 a day. And what that means is that if you’re over 35, for example, you’ve had your wage subsidy through JobKeeper cut this week, it’ll disappear completely in March, then you’ll be forced on to these levels of $40 a day and put at a disadvantage, finding it difficult to find work, because other parts of the workforce will have wage subsidies on offer. So, you’ll be competing against them.
MOULDER: I guess it’s all good and well to criticise the Government. But they have come through this period with, I guess, the Australian community. And we have done, as a country, much better than others. So, isn’t it fair that the voter would want specifics from you if they’re going to move their vote to Labor at the next election that they would want more specifics out of you? How much should someone be getting if they’re unemployed per day? What is a fair amount? You’ve got very clever people working for you. You may not have access to all the information that the Government in power does have. But people will want to really trust that you will make a difference. How do you do that?
ALBANESE: Well, you announced that before the election. But what we’re saying is we can’t change that rate today. And the rate should be changed today. The Government can. And we have called consistently for the Government to do that.
MOULDER: Let’s move on to electricity. It’s a cost, I guess, most of us do shoulder. Another significant element of your Budget Reply, Anthony Albanese, a $20 billion 6-year plan to overhaul Australia’s energy infrastructure so that it’s more compatible with renewable energy. Can you explain how this is going to work?
ALBANESE: How this works is, essentially, infrastructure projects that have been identified by the Australian Energy Market Operator, they’re the people who run the system, basically, and have developed an integrated systems plan. And they say in that is looking at the fact that our energy mix has changed. We need to have a transmission system that is the system that holds on to the energy and carries it from A to B in a way that is as efficient as possible. We know that in terms of new energy sources, the investment is overwhelmingly flowing towards renewables, towards wind and solar energy in particular. We know that batteries can provide storage for that. But there’s real issues in terms of our transmission networks. What this would do is boost our national economy, this is AEMO’s figures, by more than $40 billion. And it would make a big difference not just for households, families, mums and dads out there in terms of their household bills, but also for manufacturers and for the industry. So, it would assist in the creation of jobs.
MOULDER: We know that you’ve said that will bring jobs, especially to regional areas. But we also know that there are many people in regional New South Wales employed in the fossil fuel industries such as coal mines and the gas projects that the Coalition is currently prioritising. Will their industries and jobs be secure?
ALBANESE: Yes, this is technology neutral. So, it doesn’t have an impact in terms of there. And, of course, we know that in terms of the coal industry, in terms of exports, is where, of course, a lot of New South Wales’ coal production goes to. In terms of the sector, we also know that in New South Wales, Matt Kean, the minister, has been very busy promoting the idea of renewable energy zones. That is sensible policy, frankly. And that’s policy that can see jobs created in regional New South Wales. But in order to maximise the benefit of it, then you need to fix up the transmission issues and you need to fix up the grid. And this proposal would do just that.
MOULDER: We touched on earlier about the fact that our communities have not only gone through a pandemic, but a drought before that, and bushfires as well. And last night, you specifically criticised the Government for not releasing funds from its emergency response fund. We know the effect of natural disasters can last for years. Do you have a long-term recovery plan for areas like the south coast or the other areas that were heavily impacted by the fires?
ALBANESE: Well, the first thing I would do is actually spend the money that’s in the Budget. There is a $4 billion emergency response fund that we got increased as a part of Senate negotiations so that we had some mitigation measures, so planning for the future, just not about recovery, but also about preparing for future bushfires and future floods and future cyclones, of a $200 million a year is what was available with $150 million of that for recovery and $50 million for mitigation was left unspent. Not a single dollar of it was spent in the last financial year. And that is completely unacceptable. We’ve still got families living in caravans on uncleared land. And that’s just no good enough that they’ve had to go through the winter when money was available and just not spent. The fact is that communities were really doing it tough and they needed that immediate support. The funding was there, it just hasn’t been delivered.
MOULDER: As we look ahead, I guess, to the next election, how confident are you that you can turn around, I guess, that very strong Coalition heartland that is found in plenty of electorates across New South Wales?
ALBANESE: Well, I take great heart from the Eden-Monaro by-election. Eden-Monaro is a place that on the current boundaries, Labor wouldn’t have won at any time during the Hawke and Keating Governments. And, Kristy McBain, we had a great candidate. So, if we find the right candidates, and have the right message, I’m confident that we can be successful. And I’m convinced that we can win over more people in the region.
MOULDER: Quite a job ahead, Anthony Albanese. We appreciate your time this afternoon on Statewide Drive.
ALBANESE: Appreciate you having me on the program.